How we tested
We've all been there: A dozen cookies are baking in the oven, slowly turning a perfect golden brown. The sweet smell of sugar and chocolate fills the room. You reach for the baking sheet and with a quiet whomp, your oversize potholder flops over and squishes a few of them. Or, worse, the heat from the sheet radiates through the fabric to your hand, so you break into a jog and practically throw the sheet onto the counter, ruining a few of the cookies in the process.
Unfortunately, bad potholders are not hard to find. Our two favorite models were recently redesigned or discontinued, so we decided to retest. We purchased nine potholders, priced from about $7.00 to just over $60.00 per pair, in a range of styles. Some had pockets or loops for our hands and fingertips while others were coated with silicone dots or panels for extra grip. Some models were simply no-frills squares. We also included a model made from neoprene (a synthetic rubber used to make wet suits and car tires) as well as a thick, pillowy potholder marketed to professional cooks. To test them, we put them through a potholder boot camp, noting how they measured up when used to maneuver cake pans and pie plates into, around, and out of hot ovens; transport Dutch ovens filled with 4 quarts of simmering water; and handle scorching-hot skillets holding 4-pound roast chickens. And that's not all. A team of testers also used them to bake cookies, rotating the hot sheets in the oven and transferring them to cooling racks. Finally, to gauge long-term durability, we deliberately stained the potholders and washed them five times before checking their condition.
Could the Potholders Handle the Heat?
To our dismay, we found that many of the models weren't protective. Two became uncomfortably hot in every test. Others were fine if we were handling thin, lightweight bakeware but failed miserably when handling heavy Dutch ovens and skillets.
To better understand our testers' impressions, we performed a controlled test. After affixing lab-grade thermometer probes to the potholders on the side where a user's hand would be, we set them on the counter and placed hot cast-iron skillets atop each potholder. The performance differences among the nine potholders were dramatic—and they mirrored our experiences in the kitchen. After 30 seconds, four of the probes' readings were impressively cool, between 85 and 95 degrees. The probe underneath the worst-performing model was registering nearly double that, 163 degrees. We weren't surprised—when we tried gripping the hot skillet handle with this same model, we had to let go of it 5 seconds later, not enough time to safely transfer a blazing-hot skillet from the oven to the stovetop. The best models stayed comfortably cool for 15 seconds or longer.
Although the three worst-performing holders were made from different materials (suede, terry cloth cotton, and silicone-coated fabric), they had one important trait in common. They were the thinnest holders in our lineup. The models we tested ranged from 3.0 millimeters to 9.3 millimeters thick, and we found that those thicker than 4.4 millimeters, no matter their material, performed well in our heat tests.
Rigid Holders Were Hard to Use
After evaluating safety, we turned our focus to testing the holders' maneuverability. We confirmed that flexibility was key, as two of the models were too rigid to allow us to securely grip a variety of pans. One pair was made from thick, padded fabric and the other pair was made from cotton with silicone panels attached. Both pairs sometimes slid in our hands, leaving us pinching the middle of the holders with our fingertips and resulting in the potholders ending up in our food.
Mishaps like these led to our next round of tests—checking to see how easy the potholders were to keep clean. We brushed them with turmeric-spiked marinara sauce and found that most were prone to not only staining but also fading slightly with repeated laundering. We would much rather use potholders that stay clean and require less frequent washing.
The best potholders felt secure in our hands and stayed out of the food we were maneuvering. One of these models was made of supergrippy neoprene, which clung tightly to our hands. Our other favorites had pockets into which we could push our fingertips, ensuring a close, secure grip on whatever we were holding.
We Found Two Great Potholders: OXO and San Jamar
The good news is that we found two styles of potholders to recommend—one pair with pockets and one pair without. The overall winner is the OXO Good Grips Silicone Pot Holder. These pocketed holders sport a solid sheet of silicone on one side and cotton fabric on the other. Not only did these holders protect our hands, but they protected our wrists as well. Our runner-up pair, the San Jamar UltiGrips Hot Pads, are simply flat, double-sided squares that were exceptionally simple to use. The testers who liked these holders noted how they used them without pausing to slide them onto their hands or orienting them a certain way. Made from neoprene rubber, they were very grippy and felt secure in testers' hands while offering top-notch heat protection.
We tested nine pairs of potholders, each made from a variety of materials. (Many models were sold in sets of two or four. If they were sold individually, we purchased two copies so we could use one on each hand.) Information on materials and care instructions was obtained from manufacturers. We measured the potholders' dimensions and thickness at their widest or thickest points. We conducted in-house temperature tests with a preheated cast-iron skillet, measuring both how hot the models became and how long we could grip the skillet handle comfortably. Results of our tests were averaged, and products appear below in order of preference. Prices were paid online.
Heat Protection: The best models kept our hands cool during real-life kitchen tests. We gave top marks to potholders that allowed us to comfortably grip a 350-degree cast-iron skillet for at least 15 seconds. If heat traveled through the potholders to our hands, we downgraded them.
Dexterity: Testers rated how easy it was to pick up the potholders, fit them on their hands, and keep them on their hands while maneuvering hot equipment. Models that were hard to grip lost points. We downgraded stiff or oversize models that were hard to control and tended to flop into food.
Durability: Products lost points if they stained, smelled, or shrank after we washed them. We gave high scores to potholders that cleaned up easily without experiencing a decline in performance or appearance.